When the Town Council voted to approve the new Watertown firefighters contract the standing-room only room remained subdued, with only muffled congratulations exchanged by members of the Fire Department.
More of a relief than a celebration, it demonstrated the trying times that accompanied the 6-year-plus contract impasse – particularly the 9 months since the arbitration award was rejected.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll called the contract fair and fiscally responsible. Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he could now vote for the contract because it did not contain a 3 percent raise in years when other town unions took no raises.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said he realized the Council’s decision to reject the arbitration award angered people, but he thinks the new contract is fair.
“It is a compromise we made,” Dushku said. “I feel we saved the town money in the first four years and the contract make up the money in the last two years. It is approximately a 19 percent raise.”
Councilor Tony Palomba got the biggest applause of the night when he said stood by his vote for the arbitration agreement – the only yes vote.
Town Gains Too
While the firefighters got a raise, the town and Watertown residents will also benefit by receiving a higher level of services. The contract paves the path for the Watertown Fire Department to provide advanced life support (ALS) ambulance service, rather than the basic life support (BLS) now provided.
“The contract also provides ALS provided by Watertown firefighters, not people from other towns,” Sideris said.
By no longer hiring an outside company to provide ALS, the town will also save money.
Town Council President Mark Sideris acknowledged the frayed relationship between the town and the firefighters due to the contract.
“The glass cracked. The relationship needs to be fixed,” Sideris said. “As chair of this board I am here to extend wishes and hopes that we can build the relationship together and not allow any contract to go this length of time. It’s not fair to the employees or citizens.”
Rob Mannix, president of Local 1347 Watertown Firefighters union, said he is relieved that the contract is over, and agreed there were some tough times.
“It is definitely time to move on. I hope both sides learned from it,” Mannix said. “It got contentious at times, but it is not, I think, beyond repair. I hope this will not happen again.”
Former Fire Union President Tom Thibault said he was relieved to see the contract completed.
“I am happy that it is over. I think it’s good. I wanted to have it done before my career is over, but it is a big relief,” said Thibault, who retired in January.
Some councilors said the debate and behavior got out of hand at times. East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she had been threatened and harassed by some people since the arbitration agreement was rejected.
“Attempts were made to bully me, but people who know me know that I won’t let that happen,” Kounelis said.
She added that she was representing the best interests of the residents of Watertown and not a subset. Kounelis said she did not think November’s town election would be decided by one issue – the fire contract.
Mannix said he wanted to know if any members of the union had threatened Kounelis.
“If they did I want to know. I want to deal with it,” Mannix said.
He added that he thought that the union showed their passion by protesting but he thought members “kept it professional the whole time.”
Residents and councilors alike thanked the members of the Fire Department’s for their professionalism during the contract talks.
“I am proud of you for carrying on respectfully and protecting us over the last six years,” said former councilor and current Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Pettito Devaney.